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What should Democrats do about the Supreme Court?

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If Democrats win back power this November, they will be faced with a choice: Leave the existing Supreme Court intact and watch their legislative agenda — and perhaps democracy itself — be gradually gutted by 5-4 and 6-3 judicial rulings, or use their power to reform the nation’s highest court over fierce opposition by the Republican Party.

Ganesh Sitaraman is a former senior adviser to Elizabeth Warren and a law professor at Vanderbilt. He’s also the author of one of the most hotly debated proposals for Supreme Court reform, as well as the fairest and clearest analyst I’ve read regarding the benefits and drawbacks of every other plausible proposal for Supreme Court reform. So in this conversation on The Ezra Klein Show, we discuss the range of options, from well-known ideas like court-packing and term limits to more obscure proposals like the 5-5-5 balanced bench and a judicial lottery system.

But there’s another reason I wanted Sitaraman on the show right now. Supreme Court reform matters — for good or for ill — because democracy matters. In his recent book, The Great Democracy, Sitaraman makes an argument that’s come to sit at the core of my thinking, too: The fundamental fight in American politics right now is about whether we will become a true democracy. And not just a democracy in the thin, political definition we normally use — holding elections and ensuring access to the franchise. The fight is for a thicker form of a democracy, one that takes economic power seriously, that makes the construction of a certain kind of civic and political culture central to its aims.

So this is a conversation about what that kind of democracy would look like, and what it would take to get there — up to and including Supreme Court reform.

A lightly edited excerpt from our conversation follows. The full conversation can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show.

Subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.


Ezra Klein

What effect do you think the Supreme Court has had on American democracy in the past couple of decades?

Ganesh Sitaraman

I think that we have a Court that is in crisis in important ways right now.

What we face is a polarized Court in which the ideology of the justices lines up with the president who appointed them. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but that has not been true in modern American history. There were Republican appointees who were on the liberal side of the ideology line, like Justice Stevens and Justice Souter. Under FDR, there were Democratic appointees who were part of the coalition of justices striking down the New Deal; it was a Republican-appointed justice who wrote the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, a Republican-appointed justice who wrote Roe v. Wade. So we’ve had a very different kind of system historically, and we now have a very polarized system that is predictable.

That’s now coupled with a confirmation and appointment process that has really become a death match, including Mitch McConnell immediately declaring that they were not going to hear and give a full hearing to Merrick Garland in 2016, and then flipping on that in this current moment. So we have a process that’s become problematic.

And then there’s a question of the legitimacy of court decisions. We have a fractured country and a fractured court. And one of the worries is that if you get party-line decisions on salient issues over and over and over again, it ultimately is going to be very, very hard for the losing side to accept defeat consistently.

Part of that problem is that we have these ideologically polarized schools of thought. Part of the problem is that the Supreme Court has taken on a very large role in our policy in political debates — which is also actually a striking 20th-century development of the Supreme Court. These things together create a massive problem.

If you see cases increasingly coming down where an ideologically aligned conservative majority is going to be allowing more money in politics, potentially striking down attempts to expand voting rights in the future, already having struck down one version of the voting rights reauthorization a number of years ago — let alone addressing things like workers rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, etc. — it will become increasingly harder, I think, for people who are left of center to accept the Supreme Court as a legitimate institution. I think that’s a problem not just for our Supreme Court but also for the rule of law and for our constitutional system as a whole.

Ezra Klein

It strikes me that what we are experiencing today is something like a “doom loop of democracy.” We have a political coalition that is not able to win elections through popular vote majorities, but — due to its geographic structure and the way the American system is built — is able to win power nevertheless. Then it stocks the Supreme Court using that power, and that Court makes decisions that make it easier for the GOP to win power without winning majorities by greenlighting gerrymandering, allowing unlimited amounts of money into politics, gutting public-sector unions, permitting a wide range of voter suppression. Those decisions then allows Republicans to keep winning power, which allows them to keep packing the Supreme Court. And so the cycle keeps on going.

Ganesh Sitaraman

I think you’ve described what’s going on well. People in the world of politics say these things: President Trump will say that Republicans can’t win if everyone’s going to vote. That’s the quiet part being said out loud. And I think it runs in the kind of cycle that you described.

Part of the challenge for a lot of people is seeing that to achieve — or save — democracy, you actually have to fundamentally change major institutions, which are being manipulated in order to prevent the persistence of democracy and entrench a minority. It’s funny that the people you’re talking about are very worried about the “tyranny of the majority”; we don’t really talk as much about the tyranny of the minority, but that’s the thing we should be more worried about in our system right now.

Ezra Klein

You’ve come up with some influential proposals for rethinking the court, and have been writing about other ones on Twitter in recent weeks. I want to discuss these, but first I want to start with something that I think you very usefully foreground in your writings on this: the need to be clear about what the goal of any Supreme Court reform effort is. Can you talk a little bit about the different goals you think people have and what your goal in some of your proposals actually is?

Ganesh Sitaraman

I think this is a really important question. There’s a lot of conversation about different types of actions to take on the Court. There’s far less on: What are you trying to actually accomplish?

Some people have proposed ideas like jurisdiction stripping, which is a fancy way of saying not allowing the court to hear cases on certain topics. The goal there is that the court should not have as much power in our constitutional system and that the political branches should have much more power. So they’re really trying to disempower the Supreme Court. That’s one goal we might have.

There are people who support 18-year term limits for justices — like you’ve written about. It is sort of astonishing that the entirety of a Supreme Court majority — and maybe decades of constitutional lawmaking at the court level — can turn on essentially a random occurrence of when a justice happens to pass away or a strategic decision by a justice to retire or not to retire at a given moment. You would never think to design a system like that from scratch.

You have people who want to lower the stakes and the temperature of appointments and the confirmation process. Some want to make the court itself less partisan. And others see the goal of court reform as reprisal for the Garland situation a couple of years ago, or want to have a court that agrees with their policy preferences and will uphold decisions in their favor.

So there’s this whole range of goals. In the paper that I’ve written with my co-author Dan Epps called “How to Save the Supreme Court,” we’ve identified three goals: make the court less of a partisan institution, lower the stakes and the temperature of a really corrosive appointment and confirmation process, and put a little bit of a thumb on the scale in terms of deference to the political branches.

Ezra Klein

There are a couple things that I think of when I think of my goals for the Supreme Court. I think the Supreme Court should be less high-stakes. I take the court’s politicization as simply a downstream consequence of polarization in American politics, and the court is a powerful political institution so it’s going to be polarized as well. But I do think the question of deescalation is important.

And something that is in at least one of the ideas you’ve put forward is to have five Democratic seats, five Republican seats, and then five seats that are justices nominated by the unanimous decisions of the partisan judges. What I like about that approach is that I think balancing the parties’ respective power on the court may actually make sense.

If you’re going to have this unbelievably powerful and quite undemocratic institution, then maybe what you want to do is accept that the parties are the essential units of American politics and balance them. And then have an avenue for justices who are not really favorites of either party to be there too because under the current system if you are not a hardcore Democratic or Republican judge, you have no chance of ever being on the court, which seems a little bit weird given that a lot of people are not hardcore partisan ideologues in this country.

Can you talk about that approach and how pursuing it differs from trying to push the court in the direction of whatever your party is?

Ganesh Sitaraman

What’s paradoxical about this partisan balance requirement idea is that it tries to use partisanship in order to disarm partisanship. We do this in other areas. We have independent agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and they have partisan balance requirements.

And, in 2016, we actually had a real-life experiment with what it would it mean to have an even number of justices with a partisan balance. It turns out that year the court reached more consensus than they had in 70 years. That court also was really working to narrow its decisions in order to avoid making grand pronouncements of constitutional law. Those actually seemed like virtues to me — that we have a court that’s a little more humble and is working really hard to find agreement rather than splitting off in its own direction, whether it’s a conservative one or a liberal one. Part of what I think is appealing about this 5-5-5 proposal is that it tries to pull on those ideas.

You’ll have the 10 partisan judges select an additional five judges drawn from the lower courts to serve just over a year at a time and it would create some really interesting incentives. You might get judges on the Supreme Court justices who want to log roll a little bit so they’ll each get two justices who are more radical, but they still have to agree on one. And that one might be conservative on some issues and liberal on others. It might change how lower court justices behave so they can get a chance to be on the Supreme Court, in which case they’re going to have to moderate themselves and be more moderate in general.

So I think you’d get some interesting dynamics that would be a little bit different. But one of the great benefits of this approach is it really lowers the stakes of confirmation hearings because, yes, you do have to replace the five on each side, but you know where they’re coming from. And for everyone else, they were just drawn from the lower courts. That should really tone down the amount of salience and the kind of fights that we’re seeing right now over confirmations.

Ezra Klein

Let’s say Republicans nominate Amy Coney Barrett and then Democrats win in November. They come in, they have the Senate, and we enter into something like what we saw with FDR and the New Deal — where the Republican Court is now just knocking down Democratic bill after Democratic bill. And they are creating the conditions in some of these rulings for Republicans to win under minority conditions more easily in the future.

Packing the court has a bad name in politics because it didn’t succeed when FDR did it, but it did in some way succeed in changing what the Court was doing in response to his legislation, which is arguably just as important. And it did help kind of create a new political equilibrium. So is your advice to Democrats to be less afraid of taking this on?

Ganesh Sitaraman

I think Democrats need to be thinking about court reform and pushing it forward. I think it has benefits in two different directions. One is the one you hinted at: To the extent there’s a lot of discussion of court reforms, you might see the current Court being a little bit narrower, a little bit more humble, maybe thinking about its own legitimacy. We have at least reported senses that Chief Justice Roberts, for example, is very concerned about the court’s legitimacy. So I think you might have a benefit even if a proposal does not get passed in terms of how the Supreme Court behaves.

But, more broadly, I do think we need to address what has become just a horrific process over judicial appointments and the role of the court. I think it’s going to be very, very hard to see the court as legitimate if it acts in a much more ideologically aligned way with a certain party on hot-button issues. I think that’s going to be a really big challenge for Democrats.

And, to go back to talking about democracy, if doing nothing on the Court means that you get a system in which we basically lose a lot of the ability to expand voting rights and a wide variety of other things, then Democrats are going to need to squarely face the question: Are you willing to give up democracy in order to keep the current structure of the Court, which is not required by the Constitution?


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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